Balyku woman Elsa Derschow never thought in a million years that she would own a brand new grading machine, but Fortescue Metals Group’s Billion Opportunities program has made that a reality.

Derschow runs Brindabella Resources, a plant hire business servicing FMG’s Cloudbreak mine in the Pilbara, alongside four other female Pilbara Traditional Owners.

The business was awarded a three-year contract this year, tipping Fortescue’s Indigenous procurement program, Billion Opportunities, over the $3 billion mark.

Billion Opportunities was established in 2011 with the stretch goal of awarding a billion dollars in contracts to Aboriginal businesses in two years.

Now at the 10th anniversary of the program’s establishment, more than $3 billion has been awarded to Aboriginal businesses and joint ventures.

A major barrier to doing business for Aboriginal companies is lack of access to capital.

Derschow’s business was supported to purchase a brand new grader through FMG’s $50 million funding scheme under the Billion Opportunities program.

The scheme is a partnership with ANZ that allows eligible Aboriginal businesses to access finance with FMG acting as guarantor, removing the need for Aboriginal businesses to provide security on the loan.

The program allowed Brindabella Resources to realise their dreams.

“Billion Opportunities is life changing, not just for us, but for our families and the communities that we belong to.”

“It’s exciting — because of Brindabella, my daughter has now gone out and created her own company, and is doing better than I am!” Derschow said.

Following the success of Billion Opportunities, FMG chief executive Elizabeth Gaines has announced a new green energy procurement target of awarding $1 billion to Aboriginal businesses on green energy projects by 2030.

Gaines said FMG believes that supporting Aboriginal businesses is the key to closing the gap.

“At Fortescue, we strongly believe that procurement is a powerful lever for social and economic change and a strong Aboriginal business sector is best placed to create employment and development opportunities for communities,” she said.

“It is a very simple formula. By engaging more Aboriginal businesses, we’re supporting more jobs for Aboriginal people, and in turn, we’re providing benefits for their communities.”

FMG supports Aboriginal people through their Vocational Training and Employment Centre (VTEC) and Trade Up programs.

Established in 2006, VTEC provides training to Aboriginal candidates with the promise of guaranteed employment for candidates if they complete their course.

More than 900 candidates have completed a course since the project’s inception.

The Trade Up apprenticeship program provides a pathway to apprenticeships for women and Indigenous people, and in July 2020 had 122 participants.

Ballardong woman Tara-Marie Masatora is studying an apprenticeship in fabrication through FMG after her role as a truck driver was made redundant by automation.

She said she doesn’t think she would have gone into fabrication if not for Fortescue’s support in taking the apprenticeship.

FMG Aboriginal Development Superintendent, Malgana Wilinyu man Jeff Farrell (L) and fabrication apprentice, Baladong Noongar woman Tara-Marie Masatora (R). Photo by Sarah Smit.

“It was a great opportunity that they did that,” Masatora said.

“And that’s the great thing, that this opportunity was given, and especially to Indigenous women, as well.

“When I first came in with the mining [at FMG], they employed nearly 30 Indigenous women to drive the trucks. It made a huge difference.”

By Sarah Smit